Day Two - Viareggio

Tonight was absolutely wonderful.  I was just so happy to be where I was and so grateful for the opportunity to see this beautiful country. It simply was not possible for this day to go wrong.

First we went to the school (which, by the way, is called the International Academy of Italian Cuisine in Lucca). There, we began creating our seafood feast which was made up of several, very fresh, items caught in the same day or within one day. The first item was a panzanella salad, or "bread salad". You take day old bread, and toss it in with tomatoes, cucumber, celery and various items of seafood. We used squid, octopus, and shrimp in ours. Dressed with olive oil and a touch of vinegar. The red onions in this salad were marinated in red wine vinegar during the prep work to soften some of the bite that onions tend to have. A very interesting technique, and one that I will be taking home with me.

We then moved on to creating the pasta dish. We used rigatoni for this preparation, and we boiled just the fronds of fennel in a huge salted pot of boiling water. After it was softened, we chopped it fine and added it to the pasta with olive oil, and fried sardines. There was quite a bit of fennel in this dish, so if it sounds like an inspirational item to you, my suggestion would be to cut back on some of the fennel because it just overwhelmed everything.

From there we had cod, which was quickly dredged in flour and pan seared until it was just before completely cooked, and then we baked it with a breadcrumb topping. It was served over a red onion marmalade, which basically means we sweat the onions until they were perfectly caramelized. By far, my favorite dish of the day.

Our final dish was a perfectly light and airy yellow cake, brushed with limoncello (a type of Italian lemon liquer), and a lemon pastry cream was dolloped in the center and sandwiched with another layer of the yellow cake. Powdered sugar and fried lemon zest completed the dish.

For dinner, our group headed to Viareggio, which is on the west coast of Italy, where I got to stick my feet in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time. We also did a bit of shopping, and enjoyed a seafood tasting dinner, with several small plates of different preparations of seafood. There, we had several glasses of wine, a shot of straight limoncello, and wonderful friendly banter between the group. Its nice to know we are all getting closer. The whole ride home I was just grinning like an idiot, because I know these people are becoming my friends, and I was glad to know I wasn't alone in this beautiful place.

Buona Sera! (Good night, my new favorite word!)



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